Meryl Streep’s latest summer offering, Florence Foster Jenkins, is based on the life of a real woman of the same name who was a prominent patron of the arts through the early 20th century, whose love for music was matched only by her spectacular lack of aptitude. Jenkins’ inability to perceive her own vocal abilities was due to a long syphilitic nerve deterioration, lending the goofiness on display a soft edge of relatable humanity for a crowd who might not find being cushioned in sweet delusion for the remainder of their days as appealing as I do. But underneath the movie’s surface narrative is another story that’s been unfolding much more slowly. Each squawk that exits Florence’s mouth is another poke from Meryl at her own platinum mint reputation. Meryl Streep — the most Oscar-nominated actor of all time, inspiration to generations of performers, lifelong devotee to the art of acting — is trolling.
The movie shows us that Florence Foster Jenkins’s fantasy was seen as a gift to her friends and family, but with every dotty complaint about volume and pitch, every vainglorious attempt to scale an aria, every too-pleased acceptance of a compliment, Meryl chips away at Florence’s beatific innocence and suggests the vanity of Florence's belief in her own greatness. In trolling greatness as the world’s most decorated living actress, Meryl trolls the Academy, trolls her fans, and trolls anyone else who invests too much in the mythos of Meryl Streep, Unparalleled Acting God. There’s no mistaking the twinkle in her eye as she calibrates her squeaks and scrapes as precisely as she once calibrated her courtroom monologues. Is she the worst singer of all time, Florence Foster Jenkins, or the greatest actress of all time, Meryl Streep? Will The Academy nominate Meryl even when she is outright telling the world her goal is to be blatantly, explicitly, narratively, unmistakably bad? Will fans still obsess over her brilliant technique when she’s focused on the goal of being loopily out of tune? Only time will tell!
Yes, the onetime anchor of straightforward dramas like Sophie’s Choice and Kramer vs. Kramer has been having more and more fun in recent years, dipping her toes into troll culture so slowly, it’s hard to even identify when she decided to get in the water. Out of infinite love for all things Meryl, we rolled back the clock and used a highly scientific low-high troll scale from The Bridges of Madison County to Death Becomes Her (or 0–10 for Meryl neophytes) to determine exactly the moment the world met Troll Meryl.
What was going on with this? Meryl has a cameo as Emmeline Pankhurst, a leader of the (white) suffragette movement that the film depicts as the idol for hordes of applauding women. The wide-eyed crowd of young actresses breathless for Meryl’s orders to take up the banner of lady justice is already a bit on the nose, but even more troll-y than her two-minute cameo was Streep’s performance in the press, as she donned a Pankhurst “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave” shirt along with the rest of her Suffragette cast. The gaffe was hardly career-stopping, but it prompted widespread confusion among her longtime fans — when was it that we had to start worrying about Meryl Streep making the same mistakes as Romola Garai???
Troll Level: In the movie, 3. In the press, 7.
Ricki and the Flash
Meryl Streep played an ex-hippie rock star. Meryl Streep, of Yale Drama School, who is so blue-blooded she got her start in Hollywood playing French lieutenants’ women, Danish baronesses, and one of the WASP goddesses that Woody Allen recognizes as far too good for him.
Troll Level: Girl. Don’t play. 9.
Into the Woods
Meryl plays a witch who loses all her magical powers when she becomes pretty, and she acts and sings so hard in the direction of her supposedly beloved daughter, Rapunzel, that both the character and the actress who played her disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again.
Troll Level: Meryl is very aware that she is the moral center of this fairy-tale musical ... almost too aware. 7.
WTF are you doing here, Meryl? Why are you wearing that wig? Do you expect me to see this bad adaptation of my favorite book from early middle school just because you’re in it? Did you not know this was going to be a bad movie? How is that possible when you have been in so many movies??
Troll Level: I don’t even know. I’ll be real, I’m never going to watch this movie. Let’s guess 6.
Meryl had just finished working with Tommy Lee Jones in Hope Springs when she made a cameo in his film The Homesman as the woman he and Hilary Swank hope to reach to provide safe haven for a cart of insane women in need of care.
Troll Level: She’s really not in the movie enough to be truly troll-y, but there is something kind of fishy about Meryl saying things like, “Dear lord! She’s just a child!” about a doll-clutching madwoman played by her own daughter, Grace Gummer. 2.
August Osage County
To be honest, attempting to troll Julia Roberts — she of the Pretty Woman laugh, she who dumped Kiefer Sutherland three days before marrying him only to make a movie about her own Runaway Bride eyes, she of Julia playing Julia in Ocean’s Twelve — is grandmaster trolling.
Troll Level: Trollympics. 8.
The tragic thing about Hope Springs is that the trailer and the poster make it look like it’s going to troll you with Meryl Streep sex toy jokes, but Tommy Lee Jones is great, and as Meryl settles into her performance as a woman trying to get her sputtering sex life back on track, she gives one of the riskier and more engaged performances of her later career. She rubs up on her man, she masturbates, she gives blowjobs in movie theaters, all without ruining the mood by getting too cute about it.
Troll Level: OK, this is a good performance once it gets going, but the first 20 minutes that Meryl spends donning her best Middle-America, downtrodden-lady whisper feel like a cop-out. Meryl is arguably the best actress of her generation, but I do not believe for one second she actually has bad sex. Vanity trolling is still trolling, Meryl. 4.
The Iron Lady
I’m sorry, I’m just going to need a minute. I know The Help is a mess, but did Viola Davis really lose that Oscar to Meryl’s TROLL ASS Maggie Thatcher impersonation? Only one of the most globally significant politicians of the 20th century, but by all means, let’s make a movie about her marriage, her Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and her funky speech patterns. Like, duh, Meryl was good at this impersonation. Have we not been watching this woman in movies for the last 40 years? Why are we acting surprised that Meryl goddamn Streep can turn it out when you give her a decent wig and some fake teeth?
Troll Level: She opined how tiresome her Oscar must be for us during her (charming, funny, perfect, TROLL-Y) Oscar speech, knowing full well we were thirsting for Meryl’s third Oscar at least as long as Leo thirsted for his first. She then thanked her makeup artist, in what was no doubt a gracious hat tip to the fact that Oscar loves a good facial transformation. This troll knows what she’s doing. 8.
On a scale of how much I believe Meryl as a protagonist who uses and occupies the Nancy Meyers kitchen she has been gifted with by virtue of starring in this movie, I’d say Meryl is miles above Anne Hathaway, Kate Winslet, and Cameron Diaz; a skosh below the GOAT, Diane Keaton; and, intriguingly, still a shade beneath Dennis Quaid in The Parent Trap.
Troll level: It’s no Postcards from the Edge, but this is classic, unironically populist Meryl. This is a 3, if only because Meryl is having so much fun pretending to fuck Alec Baldwin.
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Literally smother me in my sleep with the alpaca-wool maternal warmth of your vocal performance as this fucking fox wife, Meryl.
Troll Level: 0. Yes, it’s just a voice, but voice-actor Meryl is giving Silkwood-level nuance.
Julie and Julia
Meryl is great in this, obviously. Her performance as Julia Child is eerily accurate as always, but also funny and tender and thoughtful. But make no mistake: The seeds have been planted. “Hotter than a stiff cock!”
Troll Level: This is the fulcrum upon which Actress Meryl and Troll Meryl find perfect equilibrium. 5.
Meryl is a Bostonian nun investigating rumors that priest Philip Seymour Hoffman might be molesting a young boy in their Catholic school.
Troll Level: This movie is a very serious adaptation of a very serious Pulitzer Prize–winning play. But, try as everyone here might: nuns! Nuns are always troll-y. Meryl’s wimple is the biggest troll of all. 1.
Meryl jumping on beds. Meryl shimmying with feather boas. Meryl in dangly sleeves singing “Super Trouper” with her sidekicks Julie Walters and Christine Baranski. Meryl warbling duets with an even more warbly Pierce Brosnan. This is the one. There’s no doubt in my mind. Mamma Mia! was the 10.0 Grecian earthquake that spawned the decade of aftershocks we are still weathering. Mamma Mia! was the movie that set Troll Meryl loose.
Troll Level: Dot, dot, dot ... INFINITY.